Labour’s poor excuses for revoking Asa Winstanley’s press pass

Asa Winstanley

Britain’s opposition Labour Party is offering excuses for its arbitrary revocation of the press pass approved for The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley to cover its upcoming annual conference.

Its explanations fail to justify a blatantly undemocratic act.

The party is telling reporters that Winstanley is currently suspended from Labour, which means he cannot attend any meetings, including the annual conference.

But its timeline, and much else, does not add up.

Labour bureaucrats began a disciplinary investigation into Winstanley in March – part of a witch hunt against members who question the party’s crackdown on Palestinian rights supporters and the left based on routinely bogus accusations of anti-Semitism.

But it was in July – months after the investigation began – that the party informed Winstanley that his press pass for the conference had been approved.

Then in August, the party reversed course and claimed his application had never been approved in the first place.

Why was the press pass approved in July if Winstanley ceased being eligible to attend meetings in March?

Intimidated

A more plausible explanation is that party bureaucrats were intimidated by the report from the Community Security Trust accusing Winstanley of trading in an anti-Semitic “trope” because of his record of accurate reporting on the destructive role of Israel lobby groups within the party.

Chaired by convicted fraudster Gerald Ronson, the CST is an Israel lobby group and Jewish communal organization funded with more than $16 million from the British government each year.

The CST report smearing Winstanley came out just days before the party informed him that the approval they had sent him in July had never actually happened.

The CST also conceded that “the single most popular website for article shares about the subject of anti-Semitism, the Labour Party and Israel/Palestine was [The] Electronic Intifada.”

Silencing journalists

The incoherent timeline is not the only problem with Labour’s excuses.

A core issue is that while the party may suspend Winstanley as a member, it cannot suspend him from doing his job as a journalist.

Winstanley is a member in good standing of the National Union of Journalists – with which he has also taken up this matter.

If party bureaucrats have the power to block journalists from covering Labour conferences or meetings merely by placing them under investigation, then they have the power to silence and censor large segments of the media – especially since Labour has the largest membership of any party in Europe.

It is even worse if they are doing so under pressure from right-wing lobby groups.

Experience shows that Labour disciplinary investigations can drag on for months or years, which means party bureaucrats can effectively silence people for as long as they like.

Journalists of all political stripes, including from the right-wing press, will undoubtedly be covering the Labour conference.

But by revoking Winstanley’s press pass, Labour is specifically putting left-wing journalists who may be party members on notice that they had better watch their words: Who will be next?

There are two ways journalists can protect themselves from this arbitrary power. They can resign from the Labour Party, in the hope of putting themselves beyond the reach of its unaccountable bureaucracy.

Or, the Labour Party can do what it must: restore Winstanley’s press pass and promise to stop using membership suspension in an attempt to silence and intimidate journalists.

Regardless of what happens, readers can be assured that The Electronic Intifada will continue to cover and expose the role of Israel lobby groups in the years-long campaign to oust Jeremy Corbyn and purge supporters of Palestinian rights and the left.

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The labour bureaucracy is in a funk. Or perhaps, as Norman Finkelstein has said "The Labour Party has gone mad." The big lie is that Jews are victims. Of course, they were victims of the Holocaust and we all stand with them over that. But they are not victims in Palestine. They are aggressors. More properly, Zionists are aggressors. Many Jews are not Zionists. The Labour bureaucracy has fallen flat on its face in front of the insane allegation that any criticism of the Israeli State or Zionism is by definition antisemitic. The Zionist project, to make Palestine entirely Jewish, to ethnically cleanse all non-Jews, has, from the start, been accompanied by lies, distortion, manipulation, denial, dissembling, false flag operations - every trick in the psychopathic book. Consider the Zionist expulsion of Jews from Iraq in 1949 and the following years. A fictitious "pogrom" was in fact Zionist terrorism which forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to flee their homes, where they lived in peace, to find what in Israel? Lousy camps. What is this if not Zionist antisemitism? The Labour Party is afraid of the truth because to every truth the Zionists respond with lies, ever bigger, ever more vicious. The Labour membership has courage. The bureaucracy is pusillanimous. The membership can win by standing by all those falsely accused of antisemitism because they criticise Zionism. Chris Williamson should win his court case. If he is reinstated, that is a great victory. All those unjustly suspended or expelled must be reinstated. Free speech must be defended against the Zionist desire to silence all its critics. Grassroots Labour members must use their Branch and CLP meetings to pass motions deploring these unjust actions. They must call for Asa to have his credentials restored. It is from the grassroots up that the fight against this incipient totalitarianism must come.

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Asa Winstanley's press credentials should immediately be restored by the Labour Party. I fully agree with Frank Dallas' analysis and hope that the Williamson court case will catalyse a change in the Labour Party's response to spurious charges of anti-Semitism, almost indiscriminately flung around and designed solely to try and silence criticism of Israel/Zionism, from one of unedifying cravenness to something more seemly and robust. It would be a great collateral advance if an English judge managed, in the course of the Williamson hearing, to articulate in open court a view that anti-Zionism did not equal anti-Semitism as this might help lay to rest the pernicious IHRA "working definition" (with examples) of anti-Semitism which every civic institution and collective body presently appears falling over itself to embrace. The CST is chaired by an aggressive, thuggish bully and Israel apologist deaf to any opinion not his own; that it receives $16 million of taxpayers' money (if this be so) is a scandal.

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Slightly off topic... The following are the words of Jon Lansman:

"On the basis that most people who have been expelled [from the Labour Party] have been expelled unfairly.... there is no one in Momentum who wishes to exclude people.”

Here's the full paragraph, from an article in The Guardian in March 2017:

It can now also be revealed that Lansman reassured activists at the same taped meeting that people expelled from Labour would still be welcome to participate in its activities, if not in its ruling bodies and committees. This is despite Momentum’s new constitution saying that any new member has to be a Labour member and that all existing ones should join. Asked by an activist at the meeting in Richmond, south-west London, on 1 March about what role people suspended or expelled from Labour could play in Momentum in future, Lansman stated: “I see no reason why they should not carry on. On the basis that most people who have been expelled have been expelled unfairly,* – the [Labour party] compliance unit has been trying to kick them out – there is no one in Momentum who wishes to exclude people.”

https://www.theguardian.com/po...

Presumably he didn't at some stage since then suddenly conclude that most people who are now being expelled are being expelled fairly?! And it's more than a little interesting that he points a finger at the compliance unit - which incorporates the complaints department and the Disputes Team - the latter of which seven former staffers participated in the Panorama hatchet job - ie

Mike Creighton (Director, Disputes Team 2009-2017)
Kat Buckingham (Chief Investigator, Disputes Team 2015-17)
Sam Matthews (Chief Investigator, Disputes Team 2017-18)
Ben Westerman (Investigator, Disputes Team 2016-17)
Martha Robinson (Administrator, Disputes Team 2018-19)
Dan Hogan (Investigator, Disputes Team 2016-18)
Louise Withers Green (Officer, Disputes Team 2017-18)

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Just for the record - and as I discovered when I did a search to see if any other papers had gone with the above story - just over a year later it had changed to the following (the following being the headline and the sub-headline in a Guardian article at the beginning of April 2019):

Labour antisemitism more widespread than thought, Momentum says

Accusations should not be dismissed simply as rightwing smears, group says, urging Labour to deal with the problem

https://www.theguardian.com/po...

And then, just under 11 months later, in February this year, it had now transformed into this:

Labour has widespread problem with antisemitism – Momentum founder

Jon Lansman says more party members than previously thought hold ‘hardcore’ opinions

https://www.theguardian.com/po...

What can you say!

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That should have read at the beginning of April 2018 (and not 2019).

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Journalists "can resign from the Labour Party, in the hope of putting themselves beyond the reach of its unaccountable bureaucracy."

Bowing and scraping in such fashion will not work. Obviously, Winstanley's (suspended) party membership was not the reason for his exclusion, just the paper-thin excuse.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.